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Portraits of the Valley

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around the Valley.

Anacia Weiskittel

Degas Dance Studio opened its doors in the height of the financial crisis and recession of 2010 in Encino, California. We started with a big dream to teach students the ART of DANCE, with very little money for start-up costs, only a few students and NO room for failure. In the beginning, I taught sometimes only 1 (scholarship student) 3 hours in a row. I was dedicated and determined to succeed. I made a lot of business mistakes along the way that cost me, but I learned from them and I hope to pass along that knowledge as I move into franchising the studio and save new owners from making those same costly mistakes. Now 11 years in, going through recession and a pandemic, I feel that I have earned a PHD in dance studio ownership. Read more>>

Hannah Bangs

I am a very small, woman-owned business! I opened in February out of a perceived need for my community to have not only access to indoor plants but also the education for how to care for them. I have my Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Sciences from UC Santa Cruz but followed a circuitous path of customer service and travel after I graduated. I’ve managed many coffee shops and wanted to bring the familiarity and warmth of coffee into a retail setting. I always knew I wanted to open some form of cafe or retail, so I’ve been saving aggressively since I started working. Read more>>

Aly Covington

Growing up, I had dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete. I thought there could be nothing better than standing on a podium with a medal around my neck, as I represented my country while the national anthem played. These daydreams were more like fantasies and a way for me to survive my childhood. I lost my father to cancer when I was thirteen, my mother had mental illness and was in and out of hospitals and I have one brother with special needs, so I grew up feeling all alone and like I had no place in the world. Sports gave me hope and made me feel normal. Of course, I did not make it to the Olympics, though I realized that I could help others reach their goals and dreams. Read more>>

Hanna Balicki

I wish I could say that I always dreamt of being an actor. Maybe life would have been a lot easier to navigate if I started out with a clear path. I was always more of a studious child. I loved learning, if you could imagine that; a kid that loves learning. Of course, I had some creative outlets. Playing instruments, painting, drawing, etc. My parents always encouraged my artistic side. But, the idea of becoming an entertainer truly never crossed my mind in my earlier years. I was heart set on studying veterinary medicine. And that’s exactly what I did. Read more>>

Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik

I started cutting paper while living in Israel in the 1990s. We had moved there while my wife was in her first year of rabbinic school, and my first papercuts were gifts for her. At the end of the year, I had a table at a small local arts fair, and I continued cutting paper once we returned to the States. After a decade of cutting paper, I had one of those “eureka” moments – when I realized I could combine papercutting with comic books, and that’s how I found my voice. Since then, my work has always included cut-up comic books – mostly from my childhood collection; I see the comics as a way to provide a secondary narrative in my work, which is itself all about narrative and how storytelling defines us as people. Read more>>

Amy Lyndon

I have been an actress since I was ten years old. I used to jump on a train when I was 16 to study in NYC at The Neighborhood Playhouse. When I was 17, I studied Shakespeare in London, England and then went on to receive my BFA from Syracuse University in Drama. My family followed my Uncle to California after he won an Oscar for Executive Producing ROCKY. My first movie was A NIGHT IN HEAVEN working with Andy Garcia and the famous director John Avildsen. I have 120+ IMDB credits, which also includes directing, writing and producing. I have been teaching my Booking Technique, “The Lyndon Technique: The 15 Guideline Map To Booking,” of which I created for 28 years. Read more>>

Beau Lawrence

Back in June of 1997, my best friend offered me a job to get 2% of his screen printing company (and he’d pay me $5-6.00 per hour). After reflection, I decided the path shift offer was enough for me to change my plans from being the world’s greatest architect into a new path to be the world’s greatest fashion designer (that was an interesting conversation with my parents). My shift into fashion led me to FIDM in Los Angeles where I received a degree in Fashion Design. My first job in fashion (after a short stint producing pajamas for girls) was at Guess Jeans where I’d build my career in Mens Jeanswear and begin working with denim. Read more>>

Lydia Boyd

Breastfeeding wasn’t normalized in my family as I grew up. While my mother was breastfed, she would tell me that breastfeeding was something that white women did – we did not breastfeed our babies. Then, I had my baby at 28 weeks and she became my biggest breastfeeding supporter with no personal knowledge of breastfeeding. My mother had a twilight birth and received the shot to stop her milk production while she was still sedated. She knew instinctively that I needed to breastfeed her very small grandbaby. This was my introduction to what breastfeeding support looked like for Black families in my immediate network and age group. Read more>>

Hallie Slade

Jesi and I each got our start in the wedding industry. She is the owner of Jesi Haack Design, and I founded LB Events. As LB grew and began working with some higher-end wedding clients, I would bring Jesi in to help design the weddings so that I could focus on my heavy plate of logistics. Our partnership was filled with lots of laughter & champagne at first sight! We collaborated on a large corporate event, realized we loved that side of the industry and started building SLAACK Productions together. Since then, we have had the opportunity to work with so many awesome brands… Salesforce, LaCroix, Facebook, Carl’s Jr & Alaska Airlines to name a few! Read more>>

Alyssa Callahan

I started my career in health care public affairs in Washington DC, which involved writing policy papers, speeches, media materials, and blog posts for health care nonprofits. Over time, I felt like I wanted to switch careers so that I could help patients more directly. I became a Registered Dietitian to help others who struggle with eating disorders just as my dietitian helped me as a teenager. As an individual with a history of an eating disorder, I know how difficult it can be to find providers who understand a difficult relationship with food and body image without expecting someone to “just eat healthy” or “just love your body.” To help more patients, I started Nourished with Kindness, a group practice of incredible Registered Dietitians focusing on patients struggling with eating disorders or other challenges with food and their bodies. Read more>>

Lela Luster

I was born and raised in LA (‘Valley Gurl’ here) and I’m an Actor and model. I always knew I wanted to pursue acting, it’s my passion and also, I’m happiest when I’m doing it. I started like most people, performing in school (or in front of mirrors, or my parent’s large camcorder)… well, actually, I still perform in front of mirrors… or my phone ‘camcorder.’ It’s great practice! During this now almost two years into this new world we’re all living through, I believe I’ve honed my skills more than I have before. I’ve spoken to a lot of other artists – performing or otherwise who have said the same. It’s an interesting, ‘silver lining,’ if you will. Read more>>

Siranush

I’ve been into music since four. I got classical Russian music education and performed in many concerts and contests as a pianist. Since childhood, I’ve known that music is gonna be my main thing in life. I started writing songs when I was a teenager. After I got my Bachelor’s degree in Moscow (it was Philosophy, yes), I moved to LA for my dream. I studied Music Production and started making my music all by myself. I’ve dreamed about it all my life, and now, it’s real. Every time, with every released song I feel like I’m getting closer to my biggest dream and growing as a professional musician. I’m a very passionate and stubborn person, and there is no way for me to stop. Read more>>

Chevell Hall

I’ve always enjoyed playing dress-up, even if I had nowhere to go. Every time I step out on the scene, someone is inquiring where I purchased my attire. Just looking at clothes gets me excited. Seeing women taking creative approaches to style has always intrigued me. I still wonder if they were able to attain that look without breaking the bank to achieve it. During the pandemic, October 2020 I decided to step out on faith and put the work in and launched Ladyvirago. A dream of mine came true of starting a business ensuring women feel amazing in styles they love and are comfortable in without breaking the bank. Read more>>

Brooklyn Jai

I started my career as a young boy in Stockton California. When I was little, I used to tell everybody I was going to be a star. So I joined a dance group called sick with it, which was the best dance group in the city. I danced with them for a few years until I was kicked out of the group…It broke my heart because I loved it so much, but I guess it was the push I needed to move to Hollywood to become something more. So I packed everything that I had & moved to LA with $1800 in my pocket… that didn’t last too long for I was out on the street living in Tujunga Park in North Hollywood for seven months… It was really tough for me, A lot of cold and lonely hungry nights, but I still had a dream which I believe was the one thing that kept me going strong! Read more>>

Meg Zany

Nearly six years ago, I left the corporate world as a recruiter selling humans legally to become a street artist, emblazoning the streets of Los Angeles illegally with my art. Read more>>

Anthony Qureshi

I grew up in Northern California (about an hour north of San Francisco) and got into [hip hop] dance into high school. After challenging Usher to a dance battle in Oakland, CA during The Confessions Tour in 2004, and getting onstage to then battle his backup dancer, world-renown breakdancer- “Flo master” (FYI- I had no actual training at this time and all my dance learning had come from music video & performances, so needless to say “Flo” definitely won); I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Read more>>

Emily Imagna

Originally born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I made the move across the country to Los Angeles, California in pursuit of my dreams to be a professional dancer and continue my journey as a barber and hair creative. The day I landed in LA, I wasted no time at all and got right to work. Within the first week, I was signed to a dance agency that I dreamed about signing with. I immediately started taking professional dance classes and searching for where my next barbershop would be. My life went from small city living with big city dreams into living out my new reality. During my first year in LA, I was faced with many challenges, as would anyone who just moved across the country at 19. In my gut, I knew my purpose was meant to be fulfilled here. Read more>>

Amit Tishler

My career path has been a weird one, to say the least. I moved to the US from Israel over ten years ago and started off as a TV animator. Throughout my career as a production artist, I frequently hopped back and forth between working on TV shows and working in software (videogames, interactive, educational software, etc.). Outside my day jobs, I often wrote, directed, and produced animated shorts, and that added a few awards and a whole slew of production skills to my skillset: from writing to production management, art direction, storyboarding video, and audio editing, and more. I also ended up learning a lot about IP development along the way and used that to pursue my passion and develop, pitching and sell original creative properties to networks, comic book publishers, and more. Read more>>

Sofiya Turin

I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and moved to LA when I was 3.5 years old. I grew up writing poetry and wanting to make an impact in the lives of people. I went on to become a High School teacher and school counselor by day while performing as a spoken word artist by night. I fell in love with yogic philosophy and practice about 16 years ago and enjoy sharing both my poetry and yoga/meditation with all! I have been working with an LA-based composer since October 2020, and he has written music for many of my poem pieces. They can be found on Insight Timer and we are currently working on a new poetry project! Read more>>

Amy Smith

I grew up in New Jersey, moved to Georgia, and then finally to Los Angeles. I found a lot of inspiration in the city and began painting more and drawing more. My brother introduced me to Photoshop so I began really exploring photography and digital art. I loved the playfulness of collage. I found a couple of friends that liked this type of art as well and we created a little group. We did art shows together. It was the first time I thought this is something I really wanted to expand upon. I created some paintings based around my digital work, my drawings, and the physical collage using newspaper and stencil. I was lucky enough to find a mentor that guided me into the collage work I do today. Read more>>

Whit Spurgeon

I’m an actor who spent 20 years in Chicago starring in theatre and over two dozen commercials before moving to LA in 2009 to pursue more TV and film work. Since arriving here, I’ve appeared on TV in shows like “Cougartown,” “Liza on Demand” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” and films including “Chastity Bites,” Soaked in Bleach,” and “Victor Crowley,” as well as acting in over three dozen short films. I’ve also picked up directing (I’ve directed nearly a dozen short films, some award-winning) and producing (I’ve been involved in producing over 50 independent films, TV and shorts). I’m also the Director of the We Make Movies International Film Festival, currently slated to screen its 3rd year of films from around the world Sept. 8-12 at the Broadwater Theatre in Hollywood. Read more>>

Alexandria Ruiz

All my life, I struggled with my weight. No matter how active I was or how healthy I ate, it always felt like this challenge that would never end. After years of depression, eating disorders, body image, and struggles with self-esteem and self-worth, I finally thought I had the answer. In 2010, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and then with the autoimmune disease, Hashimotos in 2016. Once I was diagnosed, I assumed all my problems would be solved. I would finally lose the weight and feel confident in my own skin for the first time in my life. In 2019, after failing another diet, something clicked in me. I decided to just allow myself to live life. To enjoy the little moments that make life unique and stop fixating so much on making myself smaller. Read more>>

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